When my wife Ellie and I decided we were going to add goat farming to our current semi retired state, the powers that be must have smiled on us. After searching high and low for a place to raise a few goats, quite fortuitously wound up buying a small farm right next door to Christine, the woman who owned the Nigerian dwarf goats from whom El had been learning the art and science of cheese-making along with goat husbandry. Our new homestead included a charming three-bedroom ranch, a beautiful post-and-beam barn, and ten acres of land, two of which were fenced as pasture. When we invited Christine to keep some of her goats in our new barn, she agreed and so the story goes.
Because the previous owners of our small farm kept horses, we inherited several horse-related items in the barn, including a couple three-foot long, wall hanging hay feeders. What a convenient money-saver, we thought, and simply lowered them on the wall so all the goats could reach hay. Once some other adaptations and several upgrades were completed in the barn, El and Christine escorted five pregnant goats over from next door – four Nigerians and an Oberhasli, all to live in the same stall until their babies were born. As goats will, they taught us pretty quickly what additional changes needed to be made to our facilities, especially the hay feeders – ASAP. Not only were they all pulling hay in large chunks through the vertical bars of the horse feeders, the bigger Oberhasli learned to put her front hooves up on the wall and pull out most of the hay through the top. We were wasting hay, and the smaller four girls were complaining bitterly about their empty bellies.
El bought four feeders designed for goats - with both vertical and horizontal bars, and I made covers for them to keep the big girl out of the top. After about a week, with all girls seeming to get enough food and little being wasted, El and Christine started noticing raw skin on a couple of the girls snouts; it turns out they were producing these sores on the horizontal bars of the feeders as they tugged hay out. Those feeders were returned, and we began exploring other options in books and on the web. We needed feeders that would accommodate all sizes of goats, that wouldn’t allow them to waste the hay, but also not hurt their snouts.
The three sources we found most helpful were the book Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats by Jerry Belanger, and two websites: Dragonfly Farm (www.dragonfly.jmkarohl.com), and Wyl’s Hayfeeders (www.oldmountainfarm.com/Sales-Hayfeeders.html). Each contains diagrams of wooden mangers that a handy person could construct, and each provided their own clues to resolving our predicament. The first helpful hint came from Jerry Belanger, who notes in a caption to one feeder diagram, “Goats are notorious for wasting hay.” This explained why all three sources built their mangers to stand on the ground with a trough under the vertical bars to catch excess hay. Both website sources protected their troughs - one with vertical wooden slats, the other with wire fencing – to keep their goats from climbing in them (to eat, sleep, and/or defecate). We chose wooden slats.
Our in-barn, one-sided manger needed to be both long and tall enough to accommodate several goats of differing sizes, so I began with six feet as the length and height of my prototype, bought enough 2x4s and lauan, and began construction with the base – that which would house the bottom support for the vertical bars and still leave room for a protected trough.
The four posts that serve as legs and vertical frame went on after that.
Because the piece of luaun for the back of the manger fit the frame without cutting, I first tacked that up so the horizontal supports could be fit above it (and cut excess off the vertical post later). The side pieces of luaun went on next, and the front support went on only after I had the vertical bars of the feeder together so that the height of the bars matched the support onto which it would be secured.
While I was constructing this framework, Ellie was getting the 2x4s and vertical bars ready that hold the hay. We chose metal tubes, which required matching holes in the top and bottom 2x4s that hold them.
The 2x4 on top of the bars was then screwed into the horizontal front support to keep that system intact. The last step was to add the vertical slats on the outside front that would keep the goats out of the trough, and we chose pine strapping for that purpose. We built the whole thing in our relatively warm basement during a Vermont winter, so we had to dismantle the whole thing, carry it out and reconstruct it in the colder barn. But it definitely serves our needs, and the girls love it.